The Deadly Grip of Wealth in the Church

We live in a prosperous society. We pull out expensive smart phones out of our pockets. We eat out at expensive restaurants and dress in the latest designer clothing. Though the poor remain among us in America, we remain the richest nation in the history of the world. Yet, our affluence grows like kudzu around our necks, choking the spiritual life out of us. Wealth and prosperity can have spirit numbing effects, masking our spiritual hunger and inoculating us with comfort. Just like in the dystopian novel Brave New World, we take our daily dose of soma to vaccinate ourselves from asking the big questions of life. One hundred dollar bills in the shape of a heart isolated on white background The love of money

Jesus speaks so frequently about money for a reason. Though money is morally neutral, we ourselves are bound in the shackles of sin. Because of our propensity to sin, Paul tells Timothy that, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evils" (1 Tim 6:10). Indeed it is, and we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where our capitalistic ideals drill a love of money deep into the recesses of our hearts. Our greed and materialism often goes unnoticed, because everyone else around us runs the same rat race.

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The recent lottery fever illustrates our deep love for money and our desire for more. With the recent 1 billion Powerball lottery, Americans went nuts. Sadly, even many Christians proudly posted $20 plus worth of lottery tickets hoping to strike the jackpot. Even after they've already announced the winners, Facebook users are now sharing images of the winners in a vain attempt to gain some of their cash. We think that more money will solve all our problems and we've convinced ourselves that our greatest need is economic, not spiritual. Our affluence, wealth, and desire for more  not only corrodes our spiritual lives, but also the spiritual vitality of our churches.

Affluence in the Church

Recently I was teaching through the history of the Christian church to my congregation. We looked at the book of Acts and saw the urgency and generosity of the early church. Their community was remarkably simple, but unusually beautiful. The first century church, marked by their dependence on the Holy Spirit, spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The church did not possess multi-million dollar facilities, charter buses, or expense media technology. Rather, their community consisted of submission to the apostles teaching, prayer, and worship. Yet, day by day the Spirit added to their number.

As I was teaching about the early church, many wiser members began to speak, contributing to the discussion. One lady commented on how wealth in the church can distract from the churches mission. Then an eighty-year-old member, who has attended since a babe, commented on the incredible simplicity of the early decades of our church. The budget was thin, buildings were small, and each day the church was required to depend on God for survival. Yet, over the decades the church grew into an upper class institution filled with multiple programs and activities, bigger budgets and bigger buildings. The urgency and dependency on God in those early decades waned as the church became comfortable in their own routine and traditions. As the conversation continued among the crowd, many voiced their affirmation of our analysis. Affluence had highjacked our church.

Restoring Urgency and Dependency

I have a feeling my church is not a lone. Rather wealth has assumed prerogative in our local churches. We've settled for maintaining the institution rather than advancing the mission. Driven by our prosperity and desire for comfort, we would rather cling to our affluential chains and comfortable traditions, than be set free by the Spirit's power. The local church should be characterized as a community of urgency and dependency. We must urgently declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world, and we must do so depending on the Holy Spirit's power. Over the decades, in the comfort of our prosperity, urgency wanes and we grew independent. After all, who needs to depend on God when you have a few hundred-thousand dollars in the bank?

So what is the solution do the kudzu of affluence that has engulfed our congregations? Repentance. We must repent of our lethargy and turn away from our apathy. We must repent of our self-reliance and fall on our knees to beg the Spirit for his life-giving power. So I write this to sound an alarm to a great danger within our lives and our churches. The problem is not our wealth per se. I am not advocating that we all should take a vow of poverty, because the problem ultimately lies within our heart. Yet, many of us are unaware that our prosperity is choking our spiritual lives. Let us repent, lest we betray our Lord for a bag of silver and go to potter's field to hang ourselves with the rope of affluence.

4 Bad Offerings

People don’t like when pastors talk about money. To be honest, I get it. There are a lot of money grabbing pastors out there preaching to make a buck. In addition to that, pastors tend to not talk about money in a very helpful manner. It typically tends to be guilt driven and the worst kind. It is the I’ll twist your arm until you let go of that cash into the offering plate, type of guilt. As a result, their is an awkwardness when a pastor gets up to talk about money, largely because the pastor is dependent on the generosity of the church members for his livelihood. With all the awkwardness, pressure, and tension often we just ignore the issues of personal finance in church life. There seems to be an unwritten agreement not to talk about the issue. We do not talk about giving and we do not talk about the spiritual matters at the heart of the issue. If you are like me, you are a naturally greedy and stingy person. Generosity is something that has not come naturally to me. It is difficult for us to be generous because we are so often very selfish. When we think about giving money to the church, so often it feels like a great obligation, not a great joy. If you do give regularly to your church (and I hope you do!), so often the task seems like a great burden. I’ve identified several incorrect attitudes when it comes to giving, most resulting from my own ungenerous heart.

The God-Gets-His-Share Offering

This is the way many of us think about giving. We take that magical little 10% number out of our paycheck and toss it in the offering plate and think that our task is done. God got his 10% and I get to keep my 90% to do whatever I want with. Got got his share and I get to keep my share. The heart behind this offering is not one of joy but of appeasement. We think we will appease God or get him off our back so we can spend our money how we want to do it. This offering more often than not is one motivated by guilt, not joy.

The God-Will-Give-Me-More-Later Offering

Pastors have unhelpfully perpetuated this type of offering, mostly from nicely dressed guys own TV asking you to buy a bottle of holy water for $50. This is the attitude of investment. If I give money to God now, then God will have to give me more later. If I give God $50 this week, I can expect a random $500 check in the mail sometime this week. This offering thinks of God more as a stock investment than a generous gift. With this offering, we give not out of love for God, but a greedy lust for more. In giving, we hope we can manipulate God to owe us more later. This attitude of giving has been perpetuated over and over again by the myriad of health, wealth, and prosperity preachers polluting our country.

The God-Will-Be-Happy-Now Offering

The person who gives this offering gives in some way to make up for his sins. His offering and gift is like penance in which he hopes God will forgiven him based off of his generous gift. Just like the pagan peoples of ancient times, the gods are angry and we sacrifice to make them happy with us. What we fail to understand is that no one has ever been saved by giving alms to the poor. You could be the greatest philanthropist in the history of the world and feed more starving children than Mother Theresa, and still be spiritually destitute. We are saved not by our good works, but by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The God-Doesn’t-Care-What-I-Give-Non-Offering

There are many who have adopted this attitude. They fill pews, raise their hands in worship, say amen loudly during the sermon, but do not give a penny to God. These people fail to understand that God cares very much about the way they manage their money. Not giving is a sin and is disobedience. These people get that we are not saved by our giving, but with an antinomian attitude continue in sin so that grace may abound. The apostle Paul speaks of just how foolish this attitude is. God cares very much what you give, and the reason for this is because God cares about the state of your heart. Your money follows your heart. Therefore an ungenerous spirit reflects a heart that has yet to be transformed by the generous grace of God.

However, there is no better spiritual litmus test to our lives than money. Our check books know us better than we know ourselves. Nothing will reveal your priorities, passions, and idols like your check book. The reason for this is simple. Our money follows our heart. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:21, “For where Your Treasure is, there your heart will be also”. If you want to know. You may say you love God, you may say you love your church, and you may say you long to see the Gospel advance, but your check book is calling you a liar. Your money follows your heart. Yet at the same time where we put our treasure our heart tends to follow. As Randy Alcorn says in his book The Treasure Principle, “As surely as the compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure. Money leads; hearts follow.” You see at the end of the day our personal finances our a huge spiritual matter. It is an issue we should not neglect and we should not avoid.

When Materialism Rules the Home

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Is Materialism the god of Your Home?

In my heart and my life, I've noticed a devastating idol that so often deceives me into false worship. It is a poison that I've been swimming in for so long I don't even realize I'm drinking it. Our western consumeristic culture has so indoctrinated me, that the chains are hard to break free from. What is this idol? It is the idol of materialism.

The love of stuff so often rules the way we think about our life. Although we might not realize it, many of us make our decisions in order to please the idol of materialism. I am convinced, that many Christians, like myself, have allowed materialism to greatly distort a Biblical understanding of home and family, especially our understanding of children.

A Biblical Purpose of Family

What is the primary purpose of the family? I am convinced it is this - The Great Commission. The mission each and every Christian is assigned, must be put into practice in the home. The primary existence for the Christian home is to spread the matchless name of Jesus to the ends of the earth. This primarily takes place in Gospel-Driven parenting. This is parenting with a purpose. Parenting to make disciples. Parenting to spread the Gospel through the next generation.

A Culture that Hates Children

We live in a culture that hates children. Children are economic liabilities. They cost a lot of money (I'm learning that one quick, and my son isn't even born yet!). They hinder our individualistic "me"-centered life style. Our culture views them as a drain on society, which is why families with large children always get the stink eye in the super market. Our culture hates children.

If we need any more convincing that our culture hates children, we just need to look at the rampant abortion rates in our society. Every day thousands of young babies are sacrifice to the god of self and materialism. Babies who are thrown to the grave simply because they interfere with our dreams, goals, and ambitions.

Materialism Rules the Christian Home

I've found that our cultures view of children have greatly distorted our understanding of the purpose of family. For many of us, the purpose of our homes isn't the Great Commission, but materialism. This is reflected in the rationale behind the decisions we make as parents.  Here are a few examples:

  • We drill our children like slave masters when it comes to sports and hobbies hoping they will be good enough to get a scholarship, and thus get a good job.
  • We keep both parents working, not because it is financially necessary, but because we want to maintain our comfortable lifestyle and afford that new Lexus or Disney Vacation.
  • We have only 2.3 kids so that the economic burden of our children doesn't start affecting our lifestyle.  Big families then, are unthinkable and irresponsible.  It is "bad stewardship" to have a big family.
  • We outsource the raising of our children to "Professionals" -daycare, public school teachers, coaches, youth pastors etc - and pay others to do for us what we've been given by God to do ourselves.
  • We place our kids in Homeschool or Private School, hoping they will exceed better academically so they will be more economically prosperous in the future.

Listen, do not misunderstand me.  My point isn't saying any of those parenting decisions are necessarily wrong.  However, what is wrong is the motivation or the reasoning behind those decisions. You see, it is the god of materialism and convenience that so often rules the roost of our home. It isn't the Scriptures. It isn't the Great Commission. It is materialism.

A Personal Struggle

Over the past several months this is something my wife and I have been fighting against. Materialism still has a strong grip around our throats, but we are trying to put our sin to death and make decisions for our future child that are grounded in the Gospel and the Great Commission.

In the next blog post I will share our journey in more detail and explain why Kaitlyn is "retiring" at the age of 25 to be a full-time wife and mother.

Does Materialism rule the roost in your home?  What is the biblical purpose of family and parenting? How should Christians think about these things? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

 

Ungodly Prosperity in Amos

 

Amos is a very depressing book. It is pretty much 9 chapters of judgement, with a little bit of hope in the last 5 verses. The book starts out with judgements against Foreign nations, but moves to Amos' mission field: Israel, the northern kingdom. He has some very stern words for these people. He rebukes them for their sin, particularly their excessive living and taking advantage of the poor. Over and over again God announces his judgement over the sins of Israel.

In fact, Amos' message was so aggressive, Amaziah the priest of Bethel tells Amos to go away and bother Judah (7:12). Amos is not very popular. His message is filled with harsh judgement from God, and Israel did not want to hear it. They were prosperous. They were comfortable. Why then do they need God? Why would they want to listen to Amos?

The book of Amos serves as a strong warning to the rampant American materialism in our culture. Read the book and you will observe that the northern kingdom sounds alot like the USA:

"Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and strech themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the soundof the harp..." Amos 6:4ff

This excessive living and comfort is disturbing to God. I don't think that prospeterity and comfort are bad things, but Israel seems to have made them into ultimate things. America has done the same. We roam around seeking possessions, comfort, and ease. We have prosperity, but we don't use it to serve the poor or advance the Gospel. We use it to buy rib-eye steaks or a bigger TV. This American greed has become so thick in our vains, that we don't even realize it effects our every thought. It informs our every discision.

A Christian is not to live for comfort and ease, but to sacrifice all things for the sake of Jesus. We are called to lay all things down, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus. The Spirit must purge every ounce of materialism that runs through our veins, and we must submit our lives to the Lordship of Christ. We are the richest nation in the world, and to whom much is given, much is expected. Therefore, let our treasure not be found in this world, but in the Lord Jesus.